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Preview: Denver Nuggets look for road win against New Orleans Pelicans

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Chicago Bulls Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets (11-12) are in the midst of one of their toughest stretches of the season that started in the middle of November, and they match up tonight with the New Orleans Pelicans (7-19). With three games remaining in this seven-game road trip, Denver is looking to get back to .500 with a win in this game against a team that has been feisty against them over the last few years.

The Nuggets have been struggling over the last several weeks with injuries and unfortunate circumstances constantly getting in their way. They have yet to have their preferred starting five to see the floor together since April of last year, and they’ll be waiting until next year with Michael Porter Jr. out for the remainder of the season. They haven’t won back-to-back games since winning a pair of home games against the Atlanta Hawks and Portland Trail Blazers on November 12th and November 14th. They’ll be hoping to start a winning streak tonight.

The Pelicans aren’t going to go down easy. Even without their young star in Zion Williamson, they’ve found ways to win games they “shouldn’t” against teams like the LA Clippers and Dallas Mavericks. Since the 2013-14 season, when the Pelicans adopted their new name, neither team has swept the season series with each team taking at least one win every year. This is the first meeting of these two squads this year, and New Orleans will be looking to take the early-season advantage.

The Essentials

Who: Denver Nuggets (11-12, 4-8 away) @ New Orleans Pelicans (7-19, 3-8 home)

When: 6:00 p.m. MST

Where: Smoothie King Center

How to watch/listen: Denver Stiffs does not condone piracy..unless it’s the romanticized 18th-century type. AltitudeTV where available. League Pass for non-Denver market viewers. Show up in New Orleans. 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio

Rival Blog: The Bird Writes

Expected Starting Lineups:

NOP: PG Devonte Graham, SG Josh Hart, SF Nickeil Alexander-Walker, PF Brandon Ingram, C Jonas Valanciunas

DEN: PG Monte Morris, SG Will Barton, SF Aaron Gordon, PF Jeff Green, C Nikola Jokic

Injuries: Josh Hart (knee), Bol Bol (covid-19), Austin Rivers (covid-19), Bones Hyland (covid-19), Nikola Jokic (forearm)

Three Things to Watch

Nikola Jokic

Over the last three games, the Nuggets are 1-2. In their one win, Jokic went 14-of-19 from the field while putting up 32 points, 11 rebounds and 5 assists. In their two losses, he’s 13-of-36 with 35 points, 27 rebounds and 22 assists. When Jokic is aggressive and hunts his shot early, they’re able to win their matchups consistently. However, when he’s not scoring or his shot isn’t falling, the entire team suffers. That can’t happen in this game.

Aaron Gordon vs Brandon Ingram

On a nightly basis, Aaron Gordon is tasked with guarding the opponent’s best scoring option. In tonight’s game, that’s going to be Brandon Ingram, who’s leading the Pelicans with an average of 22.9 points per game with a slashline of .444/.366/.846. Gordon’s ability to slow down Ingram, especially in transition, is going to go a long way towards Denver leaving this game with a win.

Bench Battle

Including P.J. Dozier, Denver will be missing three of their top guards off of the bench. This will force them to play their starters a heavier dose of minutes than they would like, or they’ll have to hope that their bench is able to hold up when they’re on the floor. Who’s going to step up? In the win over the New York Knicks, Zeke Nnaji had an incredible game before struggling in their loss to the Chicago Bulls. Will it be he that steps up, or can someone else fill that void?